A few gems about Christmas

Published 9:57 pm Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By Frank Roberts

Some time ago, I got into a philosophical discussion — all right, an argument — about the abbreviation “Xmas.” The party of the second part insisted that Xmas was blasphemous.

It should be, said he, Christmas.

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He reasoned that the first part of the word is directly connected with Jesus’ last name. Well, a little research showed us that I was right, as usual.

The dreaded “X” is often seen in print ads and on the tube. Someone theorized that the third-from-the-end-of-the-last-letter-in-the-alphabet is used correctly when it comes to the holiday season.

But a tome with the long title of, “From Adam’s Apple To Xmas: An Essential Vocabulary Guide For the Politically Correct” has this to say: “The word “Christianity” was originally spelled “Xianity” as far back as 1100. It was a symbolic syllable for ‘Christ.’ The syllable became ‘X’ in 1551, and was eventually shortened to ‘Xmas.’”

So, to you, Merry — uh — whichever.

Anyway, while on the subject I will enlighten you about some other seasonal items. Hang in there.

  • The holiday, of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, but early theologians (as opposed to the later ones) insist that to be correct, you should celebrate Nov. 18 or March 28.

What says so? “De Pascha Computus,” a document found in North Africa many moons ago. The Bible doesn’t specify a time or date of Jesus’ birth. So, why Dec. 25? It was chosen in the fourth century, because that was the celebration of two similar pagan holidays that influenced the formation of Christmas — the birthday of Mithra and the feast of Saturnalia.

  • On a different tack, there’s good, ol’ bulb-nosed Rudy. He first showed up in 1939 as an advertising symbol for nothing less than Montgomery Ward. Obviously, it was a fat success but the store’s brain trust forgot to copywrite the animal.

The creator was Robert L. May, and the animal first appeared in a promo book aimed for kiddies. It was a huge success, of course, but May received no royalties, and he nearly went bankrupt. He was trying to earn money to pay for his ailing wife’s medical bills.

The story of the plucky animal worked for MW, but not for its creator. It was a hit, and an even bigger hit when May’s brother-in-law set the story to music. Johnny Marks was the music man.

The most famous version was recorded by Gene Autry, and therein lies another story. The cowboy didn’t want to record the song, but wifey talked him into it. The moral: Listen to your wife, even if you don’t think she knows what she’s talkin’ about, which, truth to tell, is most of the time.

The cowboy’s version sold more than two million copies.

  • Well, I talked about Monkey Ward. Now a look at one of its competitors, Sears. Accidentally, a telephone number was printed in their newspaper ad, which urged children to write to Santa and tell him what they want. But the number was a misprint, and the missives went to Col. Harry Shoup, director of operations for the U.S. Continental Air Defense.

Fortunately, he was a nice colonel, and, instead of blocking the number, he ordered his staff to give updates on Santa’s flight coordinates. It still works that way.

  • A similar story: “A Visit From St. Nicholas” almost stayed in the drawer. Clement Moore drew the Santa story using a sleigh ride driver as his inspiration. It was to be nothin’ more than a family gift.

A friend of Moore, who was already established in the 19th century as an author and classics professor, sent the piece to a newspaper. It was published, but the author’s name was not given.

For 15 years Moore didn’t want to see it in print, noting it was beneath his talents. As you know, it became a giant-sized hit, and his kids liked it.

  • Madison, my oldest granddaughter, is A-B in math, so she figured this out. It has to do with Santa’s ability to visit the home of every good boy and girl in one night.

Technically, Mr. Claus would have 34 hours to complete the task. Think International Date Line.

  • The U. S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab tells us his sleigh would have to travel at only 99.999999 percent of the speed of light, assuming he visits only 800 million houses around the world. I suppose this eliminates the non-good little boys and girls.
  • Finally, the carol, “O Holy Night” was written by a Jewish composer. The lyrics, written in 1847 were penned by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure of France. The music was written by a wine merchant.

“Cantique de Noel” was composed by Adolphe Charles Adams, known for opera and ballet music.

So, if you’re in a house of worship and you hear “O Holy Night,” check your bulletin. You may be in a synagogue.